CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- After about two decades, enrollment in the Cedar Falls Community School District is once again expected to top 5,000 students.
Unofficial first-day numbers show that the district grew by 312 students, bringing enrollment to 5,068. The official head count, which determines funding for the following year, will not be taken until Oct. 1.
"It's awesome. It's wonderful," Superintendent Mike Wells said. "Certainly any time you are looking at positive enrollment in Iowa it is exciting. It's a great problem to have."
Administrators said they have been preparing for the increase since the University of Northern Iowa announced the closure of Malcolm Price Laboratory School in February. The lab school enrolled about 350 students, including 250 from the Cedar Falls district. Those students were given the option of open enrolling to the district of their choosing.
Though the district did have to add one kindergarten, one first-grade, three third-grade and two sixth-grade sections, Pam Zeigler, the district's director of elementary education, said they were ready for the new kids.
"We had a few pieces of furniture back-ordered, but we got some desks out of storage to use until those get in," she said. "We just have to be flexible."
However, the district will have to take a close look at some of its elementary buildings in the coming year to see what, if any, changes need to be made. Lincoln Elementary, which gained 89 students this year, now boasts 536 students. According to the most recent enrollment projection study, the school has a target capacity of between 475 and 525.
"I think that is one of the biggest things we took away from day one is that we have to look at our buildings, at our alignment," Wells said.
Schools like Orchard Hill, which now enrolls 432 students, and Southdale, where enrollment sits at 570, are also over capacity, according to the enrollment projection information. Remodeling and construction projects at Southdale and Hansen will add some additional space for the schools.
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The district also added a portable unit at Orchard Hill to accommodate the additional students. She said they will continue to monitor the situation and could consider moving an English language-learner program out of the school if the space is needed in the coming years.
Portable units are not an option on the Lincoln lot, but Zeigler said they were able to manage the 89 student increase by utilizing space once designated for resource rooms or flex areas as classrooms.
Dan Conrad, the district's director of secondary education, said the enrollment growth is happening in just the right spots and has helped nearly even out the secondary schools once again. Last year Peet Junior High had 559 students while Holmes had only 519. This year, the enrollment gap between the two schools has shrunk to just 17 students.
"Keeping them even has been a struggle these last few years because of the number of students that have been going into Southdale and so forth," he said. "In actuality, with the preponderance of the kids from Price Lab transitioning into Lincoln, which is on the Holmes side of town, that will continue to help balance the two junior highs."
Conrad said the junior highs now have room for about 600 students and the high school has, at one time, held upwards of 1,400.
"We've got the capacity to handle increased enrollment, even for the next several years," he said.
Conrad said he did have to do some adjusting throughout the summer to ensure that enough sections of each class were offered so that the schools could try to maintain class size targets in the mid- to upper 20s. He said the district is fortunate to have several teachers are were willing to teach "an overload" because it is difficult to hire quality part-time, and even full-time, secondary teachers during the summer months.
Wells said in the coming weeks administrators will take a closer look at the new students to determine how many are new Cedar Falls residents and how many transferred in from Price Lab.
"Even without the Price Lab kids, our enrollment really increased and that tells you a lot about Cedar Falls," he said. "It is a destination place to live and our schools are excellent and people want to come here."